Friday, 29 July 2016

Thessalon First Nation Bio Centre: An Example of Economic Development Initiatives On-reserve

By Paige Sillaby, 1st year MDP student

Entrance to Ojibway community of Thessalon First Nation
The past couple of months, I have worked with Thessalon First Nation (TFN) on strategic planning for the diversification of their First Nation-owned Bio Centre. The Bio Centre is a huge community asset that has the capacity to produce plants and trees and can house several agricultural/forestry ventures simultaneously. Modern equipment and facilities include: a 6000 square foot refrigeration building, 17 climate controlled greenhouse, 42 ha (100 acres) of property in total, and on-site lab equipment/ instruments just to name a few. However, only three of the 17 greenhouses are being used, and the Bio Centre is operating at a deficit.

 “There is pressure for increased economic opportunity, services, housing and amenities to help accommodate a greater proportion of the Band membership in the future” -Thessalon First Nation Community Plan

While I worked in various areas in the TFN economic development office, my main focus has been a diversification event, referred to as the TFN Bio Centre showcase. The showcase is intended to display information about different businesses so that TFN members may explore the Bio Centre’s potential and bring in partners, potential investors, funders and vendors. It is crucial to TFN members that business ventures align with their community values.

“Thessalon First Nation Bio Centre has the potential to be developed with the right partnerships. Economic viability and sustainability for our Bio Centre has always been our goal.” -Chief Alfred Bisaillon

TFN Bio Centre greenhouse facilities

There have been numerous pre-feasibility and feasibility studies conducted on potential TFN Bio Centre business ventures. However, the Bio Centre remains largely underutilized. This is because of the overarching barriers towards economic development on reserve. Some barriers that are specific to the Bio Centre include; unequal access to tree seedling markets, exclusion from local contracts, issues of capacity for business ventures but also the ‘procurement.’ Procurement meaning the process for getting contracts and addressing; why is the Bio Centre being excluded?

During my placement with TFN, I learned about the role of the Ministry of Nation Resources and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (MAA). The Federal government has a fiduciary duty to work in the best interest of Aboriginal peoples as is stated in the Sustainable Forestry License (SFL) set out in paragraph 20.1.  These obligations require Ontario and SFL holders to “work cooperatively with the Crown and the local Aboriginal communities’ in order to identify and implement ways of achieving a more equal participation by Aboriginal communities.”

There are political advocacy groups aligned within the First Nations community to assist them in government processes, for example, the Union of Ontario Indians: Anishinabek Nation (UOI). I was able to attend one of the leadership table meetings between the UOI and MAA. At the meeting it was echoed among the regional chiefs, that government policies are crucial for allowing Aboriginal peoples to be competitive and equal participants in natural resource markets.

While potential business ventures for TFN Bio Centre remains a working project, I wish the TFN economic department all the best in the planning of their showcase event on September 22, 2016.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Tamale: A Mix of Modernity and Pastoral Life

By Barbara Gardner, 2nd year MDP student

My field placement this summer is in Tamale, a predominately Muslim city in northern Ghana, working with the organization Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems (RAINS).  The sights, sounds and smells of history and pastoral living is vibrant and ever present all around me. Witnessing the mix of modernity and traditional pastoral life coexisting side-by-side has been eye-opening for me.

Bob N-Nya Yaa (Unity is strength) Women’s Group, Nanton-Kurugu

The primary focus of RAINS is empowering and educating girls and women. I have had the privilege of meeting and interacting with women who, with the assistance of RAINS, have been formed themselves into a small entrepreneurship group.  They have developed a sense of pride in what they have been able to accomplish, assisting each other to both mentor and nurture their children, while embracing this new collective “voice” to advocate for themselves.

Community Coordinator & Animator of the children after school programme, Nanton-Kurugu
I also visited and worked with the children and community organizers who are a part of the Childhood Regained Project (CRP), which seeks to assist school age children, both in school and out of school, by providing additional teaching support after the regular school day has ended.  This includes homework, explaining things taught in school and extracurricular activities; for those not a part of the formal school system, help to improve literacy in their native language and support them to enter the formal system.    

So far, it has been an eye opening experience in human rights (country and/vs customary) and seeing first-hand what goes into empowering the poor! I look forward to attending advocacy meetings and learning more from the community personnel about how they envisage the future through improved partnerships with NGOs and the community leaders.  

Monday, 18 July 2016

Urban Living While Dreaming of a Stronger Cree Nation: Working to Establish a Framework for the Establishment of Trade and Commerce Agreement

By Stephen Penner, 1st year MDP student

James Bay at 9:30pm. Photo courtesy of Irene Neeposh
Watchya, Kwey and Boozooh from Montreal…

Coming from the west where the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) and Les Paix des Braves Agreement are often pointed to as models of modern treaties, I assumed that consultations on a trade and commerce agreement would be a straightforward project. 

What I have found half way through my placement, 41 plane legs travelled, over 17K in travel- air and car, meetings with five of the nine Quebec Cree communities from the Chiefs and councils to economic development corporations, from small groups of local entrepreneurs to large all community assemblies to regional economic development entities, is that undertaking a project like this is vastly more complex and multilayered than I ever imagined.  

The scope and scale of the consultations is as large and as the vast Eeyou Istchee (the traditional territory and homeland of the Crees of northern Quebec) and as complex as the difference between the nine communities that make up the people of this amazing territory.

The necessary process of community consultation, engagement and information gathering is wonderfully challenging. I am only support and if not for the clear vision of the director and team here it would be uncertain if this massive undertaking would be possible.

Flowers on an Island in the middle of James Bay. Photo courtesy of Irene Neeposh
I am sure of a couple of things and one is that the development of a plan to diversify the economy is a truly necessary venture.  The structure was called for under the JBNQA and the power was transferred under Les Paix des Braves but an implementation system was never fully developed and developing that system is the ultimate goal.  Travelling on the dirt roads that lead out of paved communities to a highway that bisects Cree Territory I have seen the Jamiesens or non-Cree at work in Cree Communities and witnessed the various forms of leakage out of the places that project money is supposed to support.  

Souvenirs, including buckshot discovered while eating a delicious goose
Back in the office in a beautiful building in Old Montreal all the trappings of modern society surround me. However, my heart seems to long for my trips North- for the frigid James Bay, where we were surrounded by ice on the 29th of June.  While in the city I miss the sense of peace that I experience while in community- the transformative power of refocusing that occurs after being in an Elders Camp where smoking duck, eating rabbit stew and sipping a cup of Labrador tea is enjoyed slowly.  There is the beauty of a quiet conversation over a feast of Nisk or Goose and boiled bannock or being a part of an assembly of Youth discussing how to better their futures. The marriage that the Cree of Eeyou Ischtee have manage to make between all the worlds that they now live in is something incredible.  

Halfway through and I am trying to drink all my experiences in order to remember each of them as precisely as possible.